The tales of Edgar Allan Poe have inspired hacks and artists as different as crime story writers working for the pulps on the one hand, and poets such as Charles Baudelaire and the Surrealists on the other. Silent Orchestra are most decidedly artists and not hacks, as they demonstrate on their CD Poe—A Dream Within a Dream, a collection of ten musical scenarios inspired by Poe’s stories.
Silent Orchestra is the duo of keyboardist Carlos Garza and percussionist Rich O’Meara. (Full disclosure: O’Meara is a longtime collaborator and friend.) The two have played together for a number of years, having put Silent Orchestra together in 1998 to provide live, partly composed, and partly improvised soundtracks for classic silent films such as Nosferatu and Salomé. This background comes naturally into play with Poe, which is a kind of imaginative soundtrack for the written word rather than film.
The music on the CD is grand without being grandiose; its finely articulated and arranged structures are cinematic in suggesting a world of complex action and possibly opaque motives. Between them Garza and O’Meara leverage an array of keyboards and samples, tuned and untuned percussion, guitar, electric bass, ukulele and mandolin. As if this weren’t enough, on three of the tracks their already rich sound is supplemented by guests artists flutist Sara Andon; clarinetist Perry Conticchio; cellists Gabriel DiMarco and Harriet Kaplan,; violinist/violist Joni Fuller; and O’Meara’s son Kevin on ukulele and percussion. As this might imply, the pleasure of these musical texts is in the textures and the timbres woven into them; the heart of the music consists in rhythmically interlocking layers of voices and overlapping instrumental colors. There is much here in a minor key, of course—that’s just how it is with Poe’s tales of the grotesque and arabesque, as one old Doubleday edition would have it—but enough of a range in moods to keep things from falling into an eternal Halloween of the morbid mind.